Not all EA games are absent from Steam. New releases are still appearing, such as Gatling Gears. Intriguing! I jumped in for a quick blast. It’s an extremely cute top down shooter of the “twin stick” school, so that means the user employs WASD to move about and the mouse to aim. It has local co-op, too, so they’re going to want a gamepad to play that. Fortunately I had a pad, and a conveniently bored girlfriend, to have a romp through some of the co-op with. Impressions below.
And those first impressions are, well: I was playing in Steam and had to log into EA’s downloader (which I suppose is some arm of Origin although it didn’t brand itself as such) TWICE to input my CD key before it unlocked. Once out of game, and once in game. Fine once we were past that, but silly! Once I got into the game things were smoother. It opens with a fun prologue in which you and your buddy exit a dieselpunk (let’s get our sub-genres right, reviewing press, I mean everyone called this Steampunk! There’s nothing even slightly Victorian about it) helicopter thing and board two walking tanks. From there they wander through railyards and training areas, learning how to use their gatling gun, cannon, grenade launcher and smartbomb to take out various targets. These four weapons, and variants thereof, are to be your companions in destruction for the rest of the game. They’re great: infinite or recharging ammo, allowing you to sear the screen with an never-ending torrent of bullets.
It’s at this point, the point where the game becomes about never-ending torrents of bullets – where you realise that this is actually putting one mechanical toe into the bullet-hell sort of shmup territory. The spray of bright red bullet patterns soon dominates the screen, and there’s an almost classical wave-based pattern to the arrival of baddies in what are beautifully detailed little environments, which you scroll through as you explode little dudes out of their trenches, knock over gun-towers, rip open armoured trains, and knock enormous, baroque tanks into the ground. And that’s not even mentioning the constant stream of gliders, airships and heli-contraptions that come flying in. At first glanced I’d imagined something a little less frentic, a little less shmupy, but no, this is wave and wave and wave and BOSS.
However, I was stuck with a nagging feeling that there was something wrong. While we’d quickly figured out the controls and marched happily through the opening of the game, cooing at the cuteness of the art and the detail in the production (that collapsing snow-mountain bit! That giant boss thing!) there was a feeling that the game should have been telling us a bit more about what was going on. It was only when I paused that I realised that was happening: the UI was missing! After some vague flailing in the menus, I backed out to see if there was a UI in the single-player. There was, all fine. And so back to co-op, and we brought the UI with us. Hmm. Yes, it’s one of those kinds of bugs. Difficult to replicate, and barely tarnishing this otherwise lovely port, but still thee and baffling.
So anyway, back to the main event, and man, it’s refreshing to be playing something like this and have it be not so hard that my brain overheats, and looking so bright and fresh. Local co-op on the PC, too. It’s almost free of depth, in that shmup way, but it’s more than just a points-grab, there’s a whole campaign here. And it’s often insanely pretty.
A few more waves of bright red criticism to wrap up with: It’s far too easy to lose sight of where you are, not least because you’re so often focused on your reticule. That’s often a problem with these games, but it seems particularly bad here, when you can sometimes wander off screen entirely, or be hidden behind a bit of a scenery, a particle effect, or even a passing aircraft. I suppose it wouldn’t matter bit it happens constantly, and neither of us seem to be able to adjust. A bright coloured tag on the two characters might have fixed things.
Worse, so much of the action takes place at the edge of the screen, and half the enemies you kill are blown up before they really make it into camera-shot. Sometimes the camera even pans in further, which seems like madness, obscure what is going on and reducing what you can see of the world. This is painful at times, even leaving some collectibles trapped behind scenery and so on. It’s made worse by your needing to push towards the edge of the screen to move onwards. I just doesn’t feel right.
Nor is there much in the way of additional unlocks or variety to brighten up this strictly linear shooter. Although you can buy power ups from a shop as you progress, you already have your arsenal (and the spectacular smart bomb) from the very first moments of the game, and there are a few cosmetic unlocks, but they’re just fluff. Gatling Gears really leaves itself nowhere to go. Throw in a couple of extremely fancy but ultimately irritating boss battles, and you have a recipe for indifference. Gatling Gears is cute as a button, but no classic. At £10 on Steam I’d say wait for a sale. Unless you really want a co-op shmup, which I kind of did. I enjoyed it, just not that much.
(I wish Kill Team had come out on PC.)